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My name is Mikael Bossel, I work as a senior solution designer, which means I design solutions to manage information for clients, and also processes. Processes and workflows sort of stick together.
I work directly to the customers. I’ve been working with a lot of customers during these years and not so much with the workflows in print, more before sort of the document is created. I sort of leave it when it’s a PDF. That’s the end of the world for me.
I’ve been using a lot of systems and a lot of technology during this year. That’s also one of the problem. Sometimes there are maybe too much different systems, too much different technologies to choose from, at least from a client perspective. When it comes to design a good solution for the customers, you need to combine system or tools, also with knowledge, and also with a good process.
This is a problem, I think, sort of makes most customers buying a system, they have a sort of over-believing in that system. “It will solve all my problems, even though I don’t know really what problems they have” and so on. They doesn’t always understand the system. What’s the purpose of the system, how to use it in the right way, and then they try to implement it on their existing manual processes, which might not be the best to systemize. Sometimes you need to redesign your processes to get it to work in the system.
This is a combination and as we say, a good solution could not be only one of these parts, at least not only the system parts. Sometimes, we could manage with only adding knowledge, and some changed processes. That is … just implement the system is not really good idea.
I often work with marketing or information departments within a company. These are the companies, sort of produce all the information, sometimes go to print but mostly goes to web and so on. This is an area where they’re not so efficient. There’s a lot of sort of analysts and publications and stuff around this.
One of them is from …. It’s like a manifest, where they say that most organization, they have an overly complex and under-controlled process, when it comes to marketing. The problem is when the company grows and the information demand grows, also this situation gets worse. So what they say? They said, rethink the process. Rethink the market process, rethink the information manage process. You have to do that. I will come back to this.
They found them a little bit … When it comes to marketing, really the big thing they do, or where they spend most time, is not to be creative. It’s actually to manage information, to have very much information to manage and administrate. They have information from many sources and many people. Different departments within the company, also subcontractors’ and clients’ information goes across many people.
They should publish it in different languages and in different channels, mobile, web. It just explodes, which means also, you have to have different variants and different formats of the information.
What the problem is, is that it’s really rare that they have any defined processes or how to work with information. I come to a lot of companies and this is big companies, I ask for, “Can I see the process of how you work with information and so on?” They don’t have it documented. They don’t have a good overview of what they do and that’s the first problem.
The second problem for managing marketing information, like text product information, images and stuff like that, is that they have not any good system support. If you come to company, and for example you have web orders and you have production and delivery and everything like that, you have an ERP system for that. You have order system, you have delivery system, you have system support and quite well-defined processes of how to manage a product in the company. But not for information.
So this is numbers on marketings. Less than half have their workflows processes documented. The other problem is that they have a lot of tools to work with and these tools are not connected together. They use web CMS system for publishing on web, they use e-commerce tool for selling the product, and they have a DAM system and they have a PIM system and something else. Then they have InDesign working with all the print document and that’s not even a system, it’s documents.
Most of them communicate via email, sending files back and forth. Maybe some use the Dropbox solution we saw earlier, but that’s not really … sorry, it’s just a meter for managing information. The last one, that’s mine, I made it.
They use Excel as a planning tool. I’ve seen a lot of planning schedules made in Excel and that’s a way to do it. The problem is that Excel, even though you manage to do really nice, … schedule there, you have to manually update it. It’s not really aware of what’s happening in the organization. So you need meetings, meet people, say, “Have you done that? Yeah, okay, let me change that color of that spot in the Excel sheet. Have you done that?” And so on. It’s a lot of administration.
This is one example, I will show you some more. They manage quite much information and they do it, they publish information in a lot of publications, product guides, product news, bulletins, fact sheets, and training materials. They do it in at least 30 languages. They have more languages, like 45 or something, but all the main publications is in 30 main languages, major.
At the company, I have five individual departments. Working with different type of publications and so on. So they are … organization, as they’re called. Quite many big companies have that, different … managing different type of information. They also have like 14 external partners, bureaus working with documents.
So they have a situation, what they call the “global content Wild West.” That’s sort of a … joke, as well. But it’s true. They have some issues with managing information. But we made a pilot for them and we find yes, by working with one of these documents, we could actually reduce their effort quite much. Mainly because of automation but also implementing something called “micro workflows.” I will come back to that.
Also, they will increase the quality, which is also big problem. That’s because they will use single source of the information.
But, because they will use single source of information. When working with five departments and 14 external partners with all these publications, they don’t have one single source of information. So they have a lot of possible errors. We have implemented an information ERP system for them. I’ll come back to that.
Traditional work flows at the marketing department. I said it, they are really not documented. So one of the jobs we do is actually helping to document the work flow processes. What are they doing? Just visualize all the actions in sequence, what happens. You know how to do work flow but you’ll see a lot of them today. When you do that, you see that they have actually a lot of things to do within the company, or the marketing department. One thing that they sort of forget, they don’t tell you about it, it’s not a process on the mind. But that’s managing, or administration. Since they’re working quite manually, or have different systems without integration, they spend really much time on planning, the project estimates, the checklists. I had one company with five people and they had all five different Excel sheets. As there was the checklist. My next week, what should I do, and everyone managed their own checklists. So there’s a lot of administration to manage everything.
When you start to list these processes for them, and you check it, it’s quite simple. You can just list up, what are the activities in your workflow, how much time does this take. For one process it can be like 21 activities. Often they have quite many things they do before they sort of start writing a text until it’s published. It can take like 45 minutes or 44 minutes. They repeat it 500 times because they’re doing 500 fact sheets or they’re doing 500 products that should go on the web. If you summarize that, you’ll see that will start piling up quite many hours. Actually this is the time the marketing departments spend, they spend a lot of hours internally, but also externally. This is sort of the base for the prioritization. What you spend the most time is probably the area where you start to do improvements.
This company is trying to get the shorter time for market or time for value, of course. This is actually the first thing they tried to do. Without changing anything, squeeze the timeline. They tried to press the print guys, and they tried to press the bureau, doing the marketing I think. It’s still the same, but faster and that doesn’t really help anything. Then, ultimate automatization, or automation. You’ve seen a lot of automation stuff today, but there is actually also … marketing, we saw from … publishing, could do stuff. That’s also one good thing to do.
Avoid doing the same thing twice is also quite good thing. Seems quite basic, but it isn’t. If you take a look at the workflows in the market department, they do things twice, or three times, or five times, or even more. Especially when they do a review. They create a document, they send it for review, they get input back, they changed, send it out again. Without telling you what have I changed since the last time, what parts should you read and what parts should you not read. So you have to read everything twice, maybe three times, four times. If you do an annual report or something you can have seven rounds of a review. That’s not uncommon. So you have to avoid that repetition.
Of course you can do stuff simpler. You can simply. Even though you can not automate an action, like proofreading. You can make it simpler for the person who will read it. Use change marks, for example. That’s a really simple things. But there’s very few of my clients that have change marks in the document. They just send the documents once again.
And of course, shorter workflows. How to make workflows shorter. Well, when you work with traditional, especially print, the unit you manage is a document, or even for this company … as in my example, they used batches of document. They didn’t just send one document, they sent all the documents at the same time. When they do translation, they wait for translation to send all the document translation. They get it back, they do the review of all the documents and so on. That’s quite easy to plan but it’s really time consuming when it comes to workflow.
Traditionally, you move one document in the same workflow. This is a fact sheet with what the use case for Volvo. It could be at least four pages or up to 16 pages. They send a document for review, they have two different kind of reviews. They send a document for translation. The document is the unit. They have different types of changes. Sometimes it can be a very small technical thing or it can be sales argument or it can be an image. But everything travels in the same workflow because it’s a document. Even a small change like this, the complete document has to work all the workflow around.
So what to do? This is the example workflow they had for one of the documents. They did the productions, and then they did a technical review, and then they did a commercial review. Then translation and after that publishing. Quite simple. But they had a whole batch of documents going from step to step. They had four of these periods during the year where they produced documents and released the documents and it’s an ongoing process for them. The problem is that things change quite much faster than four times a year. Especially when you work with the products they have. They are quite technical. They have software and software updates quite frequent. They need to squeeze down this workflow and timelines.
Of course the traditional way to calculate how to do this plan is to mostly guessing actually. That’s the most common way to calculate. After a while when you’ve done this a number of years of course you can make the schedule better. In some way, they have a number of units they can produce per day, depending on different steps. That makes how long one of these steps should be.
Micro is small, so what we do is we break up the batch they have of documents into single documents. But also we break the document into pages or sections. What we also did was break out the content from the document. So, content separate from the document. That’s also something called content-first. A couple of other clients, even actually traditional publisher like Egmont Publishing, they do magazines, … and other. They have a couple hundred magazines. They’ve also started working with content-first. Traditionally, they worked with document first, in the same document as the newspaper. Now they work with articles or stories within that content. That also is because they want publish on the web at the same time as publish printed.
On this Volvo case we also break the content
M.O. On this Volvo case, we also break the content into information units because we have some sales text in the beginning which could be separated from facts. And you have some benefits and then different parts of types of information.
So their traditional workflow was like that. They had a production, then they did it tech and commercial, and translation and publishing. So just by taking that and divide into two batches. You could actually move one batch and then finish workflow of the file documents and move these file documents to start here. And as you break it down to even smaller chunks, you can press it together even more. So by just having two chunks of documents instead here, so to have it this case like 35% shorter project time.
But also the thing is that some of this fact sheet, they might not need a technical reader. Because if it’s only the sales argument in this document that have changed, you don’t have to send it to a technician because you only send it for commercial readings. So this workflow will not include a technical reading, of course.
And maybe some other documents don’t need to be translated because you just changed some image or something, does not need translation. So then it’s even shorter. So these together will, for Volvo at least, shrink this … for 50%. Only by having a smarter workflow, working with smaller units of information.
And there’s some other benefits, of course, because activities could start without waiting for others. So you can compact the timeline. The smaller units make it … You can process it in parallel instead of a long sequence. Of course, you can differentiate the workflows; the different documents can go into different steps depending what type of content change it is. And, of course, there’s some units of change that haven’t been affected so they don’t have to travel the workflow. So you don’t have to send pages or pieces of information that’s not changed into your workflow at all.
And another effect is that since you do that, you spread the work load. And that’s a problem for today because when everything gets back from translation, they are really busy doing review because you have a couple thousand pages in 13 languages and everything should be reviewed during two weeks. So, of course, you have a peek, but since you spread out the workflow, they have little review every day to do. And they’re not really a big problem if someone gets sick and so on, because it doesn’t pile up so much. So these are …
There are some sort of a backslash. It will change the way you work and shouldn’t forget that in a big organization, especially a traditional company, industrial company, all changes is … Yeah, it’s a problem. It will take quite a long time to implement these changes because the people are slow in change.
And also, when breaking up this, you cannot really use Excel as a project planning tool. You shouldn’t use it at all to begin with. But if you do, you need some IRP system or information management system. Depending what type of information you have, you need to start this on smaller assets and follow it up. And when something is checked for translation, you shouldn’t have a person calling someone and check this up. It should be status on the object and the buttons are in. This is done, done, done, done. So …
And in this case we implemented a marketing hub, or and ERP system for information, called Sunshine. And this helps us with all of this. We can break down information, we can mix digital assets like images with database assets like a product. We can have status on them, we can assign to them different persons or different working groups. It also have an … server and a planning tool so we could place things on the pages and produce the pages and send it for translation. It has integration with the translation edits and everything. So this is a really marketing hub for them. And it also have a calendar, a schedule, and a project tool built in. And these phases could also be connected to the information so when things have been checked off for technical review, this will go from 0 to 100% so you can follow the workflow and see it. That helps, of course.
Here, so this is my sort of last words. If you want to implement the solution, you need a combination of knowledge, process, and system. You cannot do it with only the system. And when you implement a system, probably you also have to rethink your processes because a system could be good in a specific way and that’s not maybe the way you worked before. So if you haven’t defined them, rethink them. And don’t forget to evolve the process. All the processes will be changed. The system change, your demand change, so you have to constantly work on your process and update them, make them more accurate and efficient. And if you break the workflows into micro workflows, you will save time, I mean you will be more efficient.